Being in the woods makes me happy. Sometimes simply not being indoors is enough.
Add a predawn start with a bunch of good companions (including my favorite four-legged pal) on a favorite local ridge finally beginning to rally to life after a punishing winter and, well, things couldn't get much better.
Except sometimes the body doesn't cooperate. It's tired, disinterested, unresponsive. And sometimes, no matter how non-competitive or goal-oriented a runner you might be, you bog down on not performing the way you hope to and allow frustration with momentary physical weakness to be a bigger, a MUCH bigger, deal than it should be.
"Sometimes" was Saturday.
Yes, I muddled through another 2700+ feet of climbing in a challenging season in which miles have been hard and hard to come by. Yes, I am on track for what spring and summer have in store. I know that, but I stopped knowing it for a time on Saturday morning because instead of heeding the signs that my body needed a day off, instead of listening, I shouted over those indications with the noise of more of the very thing that had me worn down in the first place.
That's what ultrarunners are supposed to do, right? Gut it out, suck it up. Push harder, work harder, BE harder. Keep moving. Get back up.
Over and over and over again.
I get it. I like all that and wouldn't be out doing the things I do if that weren't the case, but...
boy, do we ever miss out on all the lovely small things when we get so hyper-focused on the big thing that (shhh, don't tell anyone) isn't really a big thing at all. We should know better than most that from time to time energy lapses and the indestructible body proves destructible, the unwavering mind wavers and, surprise, life goes on anyway.
I smiled for my friends and genuinely enjoyed their company but, make no mistake, my attention was inexcusably distracted by not being able to enjoy the movement because it wasn't the quality of movement I expected of myself.
Which is ridiculous.
Thankfully, even my numb skull can warm with enough exposure to the glow of life's little wonders.
The coffee waiting at home tasted just as good as it always does.
A book pulled off the shelf for ten minutes of reading before Lindsay and the girls were ready to accompany me to the diner for breakfast did what books so often do, floored me with its reminder of how powerful words can be when their order is orchestrated by a conductor finely attuned to not just language but also to the essence of human interaction. The words wouldn't have been any more or less stirring had I charged through my earlier workout instead of bumbling and muddling along.
The thaw continued at breakfast with relaxed laughter, a recap of the girls' individual adventures at school that week, and the sweet, reassuring touch of a daughter's hand in a shared restaurant booth.
Off to the rock climbing gym from there. I resigned my tired body to belay duty while Lily and Piper were their normal roller coaster rides of grit teeth determination alternating with who-could-care silliness. They were having fun. They weren't measuring the fun they were having by increments of accomplishment, but reveling in play and exploration. Hard to think of that concept as a "small thing" when you're forced to examine it, but too often our stressed-out by everything adult minds fail to grasp that simple wisdom.
Lindsay left the gym for a shift at the hospital and we three who remained headed back to the house to pick up Sugar Pie and then together we returned to the forest to retrieve the dog leash that I'd forgotten at the top of Molehill that morning.
Sugar Pie whimpered her want to move fast, fast, faster, but I and my battered legs were far more content to slowly amble along the Horseshoe Trail while the girls flitted about in search of scavenger hunt targets.
Hours before I had surveyed the ground beneath my feet through the narrow lens of a runner's eye, seeking traction and confident footfalls in a threatening landscape of ice, snow, mud and rock. Now, with my daughters by my side, the terrain was full of hope and promise. Receding snow revealed little pockets of life below and Spring suddenly seemed not so far away.
It wasn't that Lily and Piper were more attuned to the small things so much as they seemed enamored of everything. Of ALL things. I marveled at just how many different things caught their attention, at Lily's endless stream of questions, and Piper's tenacious tracing of every one of her big sister's strides.
We scavenged, successfully, finding most everything on our list, including Suge's leash.
My legs ached, they must have, but that isn't part of my recollection of our time together.
The thaw was complete and I was lost again to living in the moment. Lily was actually the one to remind me that I was tuckered out by suggesting that when we got home I sit and relax while she and Piper rode their bikes and played on the playground of the old decommissioned elementary school behind our home.
I couldn't and didn't argue with her. It sounded like a great idea.
And that's when another not so small thing happened. Lily decided that she didn't need her training wheels anymore which was news to me. But, take them off we did, and except for a few fairly harmless slow-motion tumbles, she figured it out despite being perched atop a bike that seemed two sizes too small for her growing-too-fast-for-mom-and-dad legs.
She and Piper Bea whooshed around and around and around the small playground until hungry bellies won over their will to keep pedaling. I was hungry too but could have gone on watching them at play forever.
Lily dashed towards the house as I shuffled behind with two little bikes in tow. Piper had been right by my side so I was taken aback when my asking her if she'd had fun went unanswered. Looking back over my shoulder, I found her summiting a lingering pile of plowed snow at the edge of the schoolyard.
"What are you doing, Pipe?," I asked. "Why'd you climb up there?"
"Why not?," came my answer as she thrust out her arms to beckon for rescue.
"Why would you climb up there if you can't get down?"
"I figure it out once I get up."
My child, a small thing herself (for now), had blessed me yet again with another not small at all example of why life isn't so much about how well or how poorly you climb the hill so long as you appreciate the gift of a hill to climb in the first place.